Thursday, December 19, 2013

Prayers for Laney, Her Family and Those Fighting For Her

It is human nature for us to feel sorry for ourselves when things are slightly less than perfect. Then somehow, some way you find something that reminds you of the truest meaning of life.

Early Wednesday morning my dog woke me up at an obscene time between 4 and 5 a.m. I took her outside. When I came back in I saw some students from Penn State’s Berks County Campus had asked me to re-tweet something encouraging people to pray for Laney—a Four Diamonds Child fighting for her life.

I re-tweeted it immediately. It is a small thing to do. That morning as I said some prayers I added some for Laney and her family, but I still did not know her story.

About two hours later I got an e-mail from my wife that was a post Laney’s mother had put on facebook. It was a story that struck her heart, and I dare say would strike a chord in every mother's soul.

It was heartbreaking, terrifying yet in an instant some of what Laney’s mother said were among the most beautiful things I have ever read:

Today we were told the worst news of our lives. Laney has 70% cancer cells in her blood. If they would treat the cancer the virus that she has would kill her. And if they treat the virus the cancer will kill her.

They gave her a couple days to a couple weeks to live.

My heart is breaking. I sit here looking at her face trying to remember every contour of it, I breathe deeply ...against her skin trying to always remember her smell. Every time she speaks I try to listen for the different way she says certain words so that I never forget. I keep putting my lips against her warm skin because I never want to forget how that feels. I'm devastated and I'm hoping that I will wake up from this nightmare.

We told Laney and she said she wanted to be the one to tell Kylee and Jacob. She told Jacob that when she's gone he is to be a good big brother to Kylee. And she thanked Kylee for being a great sister and her best friend. They all cried in each other's arms. I have never felt this type of pain in my life.

We will be taking her home on hospice tomorrow and will be trying to let her have as much fun as she can handle. We will watch her blow out her eighth birthday candles knowing that she won't have a ninth. We will also ask Santa to come early this year because Laney has been such a good girl. Please pray for Laney and our family. Please pray for a miracle. We will be spending every second with her till God decides he needs another beautiful angel up in heaven.

Her words are a testament, bearing witness to what a mother’s love can and should be for her child. If you are a parent you cannot read what she wrote and not be moved and not feel the warmth of tears rolling down your face. If you’ve ever sat in a hospital and watched a loved one knowing what is most likely inevitable you know some of what the Browns are feeling.

Laney is part of The Penn State IFC Dance Marathon family and that makes her part of the Penn State family. Penn State’s finest hour every year is THON—easily eclipsing all other triumphs. That is what WE ARE all about. The entire Penn State community pulling together raising millions of dollars so that the miracles we pray for today become routine cures tomorrow.

It is Laney’s story and the words of a mother facing heart-rending pain yet holding hope for faith in what is yet unseen that remind us all what THON is truly about. Laney’s mother Jenn and her whole family hold onto faith in a miracle that many people she will never know and never meet are praying for even now.

That is why our students dance, that is why they stand on corners asking for change, that is why they spend an entire year so they can hold up a fund-raising total yet again that blows us all away.

It is all For The Kids—but also for the families as well. Jenn’s words about her daughter remind us of that.

But the words remain as a call to arms, as a challenge to push every day to raise money, to find cures, to ease the burden of the children and their families and to save lives.

That call is being answered every day by students at Penn State through THON and that is what WE ARE.

When you next pray please keep in mind a young girl and her family. Pray for a miracle that only the gentle hand of God can grant. But also pray for the students at Penn State and their yearly mission fighting for the children and families—people like Laney and her family.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Living The Dream

I coached at Penn State for 17 years and it was a unique place. The program stood apart in this regard: graduation rates for Black student-athletes and White student-athletes were equally high--both over 80% when the national average was around 50% overall. Across big-time college football Penn State's graduation rate equality was the exception, a huge exception.

Today 50 years after The March on Washington I was thinking about a passage from the eulogy I delivered for my father's Memorial Service. It captures what made the football program at Penn State special.
"The players that came here to Penn State, came here because here was Martin Luther King's dream. Here was a place where black kids and white kids could hold hands in a huddle, where we would all be given a chance -- an equal chance -- where they would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin, nor the way in which they prayed to their God. Bound by a common cause our differences would melt away."

The truth and dream Martin Luther King, Jr articulated 50 years ago today is a standard that we should hope we can measure up to every day.

As Julian Bond said last night on C-Span "Martin Luther King spoke to black people and white people in the common language of evangelical Christianity that they both understood."

The key point being that he spoke to all of us.....our challenge is to make sure we are all listening. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bocce Memories & A Salute To Carm Cassese

Having an Italian last name does not necessarily mean one was born with a Pauline ball in your hand springing from the womb ready to bowl some Bocce. As a kid we played Bocce from time to time in the grass in Sunset Park along with other games like Horseshoes and everyone’s favorite the ever-dangerous/now outlawed Lawn Darts.

It wasn’t until 2008 and 2009 when I saw what real Bocce was all about. I went to Youngstown, Ohio to participate in Cardinal Mooney High School’s Football Camp. The day before the camp, they hosted an all-day Bocce Tournament. This was the big leagues.

The owner of The M.V.R. Carm Cassese ran an outstanding restaurant and it seemed like the whole family worked there. Outside they had six Bocce courts with finely crushed stone, almost like a dust. The courts were superb; even and consistent in the roll of the ball.

At that event every politician in town was there including U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan. The games were intense and competitive and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was way out of my league. Playing in the grass at Sunset Park is one thing, this was something completely different.

It was a great day, but the highlight came that night.

After we were all eliminated we played one fun match. The other team was made up of Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel, Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops, Arziona Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops and ESPN Analyst Kirk Herbstreit. I was joined on our team by Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini, ESPN Analyst Todd Blackledge and MVR Owner Carm Cassese.

What started out as a game for fun quickly got very, very competitive. Jim Tressel was not going to lose if he could help it, but ultimately the owner Carm Cassese was the difference and our team won. The biggest complaint was that we had all the Italians stacked on one side.

It wasn’t that we had all the Italians, it was that we had the RIGHT Italian. This was after all his home court.

After the game we all sat down and talked football for another two hours while the Cassese family brought out plate after plate of pasta and sausage and every kind of sauce you could imagine. Each new dish was even better than the last one.

Sitting around with all those guys, talking football and eating all that food ranks among the best nights I ever had as a coach. Even though we competed against each other in the fall, this was a time when we put all that aside and got to know each other away from the stress of a big football game.

Sadly I learned that just two weeks ago Carm Cassese died of cancer. He will be missed by so many, many people. Every time I walked into the M.V.R. he’d come out and talk, and say hello and talk about my father. Despite his allegiance to Ohio State and Jim Tressel he always shared the respect he had for my father as a fellow Italian and for the way we ran our program.

Well I hope I said it to him enough and if not I certainly hope his family hears this; I had nothing but respect for Carm Cassese and his family and for the way they ran the M.V.R. I haven’t been in Youngstown in a while, but when I do get back out there I will stop in, have a big plate of pasta and, even though I do not drink, I will hoist and drink a glass of Italian Red Wine in his honor.





Friday, May 24, 2013

At Home Thrift Shop Finds

Thrift Shop--Poppin' Tags at Home

In the course of doing some Spring cleaning and going through an old tub of gear I found some cool old Penn State Football stuff. Each find triggers a memory that makes me laugh or in this case maybe even cry (the outcome of the January 1, 1979 Sugar Bowl was not exactly what PSU fans had wanted).

ABC's Keith Jackson still says that the 1979 Sugar Bowl between #1 Penn State and #2 Alabama (a 14-7 Alabama win) was the greatest game he ever called. That is pretty high praise and it is warranted. It was a phenomenal football game. Years later I can look back and be proud I was there to see it. Keep in mind that Keith Jackson did not call the 1987 Fiesta Bowl between Miami and Penn State a game TV Guide called the greatest bowl game ever televised (more on that on another date).

I did not actually cry when I saw this shirt but it did trigger a story. As we left the Superdome after the loss and walked onto a rainy New Orleans street my mother was sad. A few tears were in her eyes. Being an insenstive 10 year old boy I told my Mom that she shouldn't cry.

My mother looked at the rain and told me "Even God is crying."

There was no comeback for that one.

One funny note about the T-shirt--it appears that Alabama is actually matched up with UNC--given the Carolina Blue pants and helmet that Penn State Quarterback Chuck Fusina is wearing.

I have found a whole bunch of stuff so check back next Friday to see what turns up.

Monday, December 17, 2012

There Are No Words To Console.....

Authors Note: I wrote this on Saturday morning December 15, 2012 after sitting up most of the night thinking about what had happened in Newtown, CT the day before. Sitting in my den I could hear my children playing and the thoughts I had just crytallized and came out. Sometimes there is a story, or words in your soul that have to come out. I shared what is below with friends and family and many encouraged me to share them more broadly so here they are.

There Are No Words To Console…… On the night Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed Senator Robert F Kennedy had a scheduled campaign rally in downtown Indianapolis among a crowd of blacks and whites. Despite a lot of advice to the contrary he still took to the stage.

He told them the news that many of them had not yet heard. Then he offered words to unite them, to remind them of a shared human condition and words to console.

  “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago; to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

That night, while other cities were burning, the people of Indianapolis went home and prayed for Dr. King, for their country and for themselves. There was no violence. Senator Kennedy eased the pain of a tragic night. A little over two months later Senator Kennedy would be dead by assassin’s bullets.

After watching the horrifying events in Newtown, CT, I like every parent and every person was driven to find some sense. The people of Newtown must know that there are many that they do not know, many they will never know and never meet who are with them. We pray, we cry, we feel anger, we feel regret, we rage against what Dylan Thomas called “The dying of the light”.

I live a couple hundred miles from Newtown. I do not know anyone there. I do not know any of the victims or their families.

Yet I cried.

Friday afternoon I watched the President of the United States weep openly, powerless to defend these children. His words were beautiful, the words of a good and decent man, speaking some of the very same words that so many of us felt. But he was not a President, he was like so many just a father and a man.

There were no words to console…..

Last night I could not sleep for a long, long time. Awake in the darkness I thought of parents in their homes with the huge void of a child who would not return. Though the bullets of destruction never touched them, the gunman’s shots tore holes through the parents’ hearts.

While I was awake in my home, I knew that my own young children were safe. But my mind thought of those parents, and my heart ached for them. Their child was not home, they would never again hear the laughter, the voices, the words “I love you Mommy” or “I Love you Daddy” from their little beautiful child.

In those houses are now-empty rooms staring at those parents, a visual reminder of what was lost. Still worse a mother who could not yet hold her child, to face the truth and mourn the loss and weep the tears a mother should be able to weep over the body of a lost child.

Their child was still in that school, still in the very same spot where those little ones were forced to look into the very face of evil with no parent to protect them, going to God in the most horrifying of manners.

There are children who lost a parent in that school. A mother of five who will not walk through the door at the end of the school day any more to offer hugs and kisses to her children.

These adults went fighting, fighting to protect children from the forces of evil. They did what they could and for that the Lord will offer them sanctuary in heaven. Yet for their families all over Newtown, CT there is loss and there is unspeakable pain.

There are no words to console….

I am a man who has faith in the God I pray to. But even those with faith much stronger than mine have had their foundations rocked by what happened.

This was satan among us and where was God to defend these children? Was not this man made in God’s image? Yet how did he become an instrument of all this? In what dark recess of his mind did this hatred reside and what dam broke that allowed it to pour forth and flood the lives of so many with pain?

Why did these children have to go before the evil doer with no one at their side to calm them in their last moments? Why God, why God did they have to see this, did they have to face the fear?

Like so many others I want to shake my fist at God. I am angry, I am shaken, I am lost searching for some reason. The Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel once said “We talk about Providence when things in the world work out the way we know they should.” This is not how things in the world are supposed to work out. There is not supposed to be the massacre of innocence and the innocent.

I dare not demand an answer from my God, but I am powerless to control the involuntary impulses of my mind’s thoughts as I see the work of man among us. We are all human, saddled with the baggage of our human frailty. For that we need not apologize to God.

Lincoln said of prayer “I’ve been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I have no place else to go.” In the face of this horror, we have no place else to go.

We are bound by the common hopes for our children. The destruction of one child, and one family’s dreams takes a piece from all of us. If these are my thoughts, a man with no direct connection to these events, how must the people in Newtown feel?

There are no words to console…..

This morning I thought of the first responders, the men and women working through the night to investigate this tragedy. They had to walk into that school and rooms to piece together what happened. What a horrific sight they must have seen.

It is something that even, no doubt, the most hardened and veteran person could not comprehend. They will never ever forget what they have seen. For that my heart aches for the reality they had to witness. They bore witness to and the scars from the handiwork of the evil one. They will need help, they will need to heal.

There are no words to console…..

There were children who survived. Their parents rejoiced in the good news that their children returned home and would sleep safely in their beds. But both those parents and their children face a reality forever altered by the acts of one man.

While their children are home these parents must walk amongst many others bearing the grief of irrevocable loss. There will be moments of guilt in rejoicing one’s salvation while seeing the pain of others so close to your home.

There is an awful truth that these parents of the children who got out alive will face. Their children are home, but they will be forever changed. They heard the gunshots, they heard the screams, they knew the children and adults who will never walk among them again.

There will be tears and nightmares, there will be wounds that can never be completely healed. The parents of these children will suffer knowing they can never completely take away that pain.

There are no words to console….

In ten days there will be Christmas. In many of these homes there are already presents for lost children that they will never open. What might have been? Parents may have picked the perfect present that their young kindergarten child had always wanted, knowing they would hear a squeal of joy, or see a wide smile, their child excitedly jumping up and down.

Parents relish a moment like that, but for them that moment will not come again. That present sits like a ticking bomb to be discovered in the Christmas gift hiding place only to explode through the soul of a mother or father who realize the smile just days hence will never happen.

I learned from someone once that “When you become a parent your happiness is defined by your least happy child.”

Those words haunt me today as I reflect on the community of Newtown. The happiness of the children who died and those who survived has been taken. Those parents have wounds too new to have even scarred yet. But they will remain.

My father lost a four-year old brother to illness. Nearly eighty years after that loss I asked him about it. He remembered his mother weeping and wailing, her inconsolable grief.

“I don’t think she ever did get over that.” He said.

“Dad, I don’t know that a parent ever can completely.” I said.

He agreed and we walked on.

Right now is not time to argue the future, it is not time for the pro-gun, and gun-safety lobby to be on television. Their arguments and their petty squabbles seem small and even offensive in these days immediately after this tragedy. Allow the familes and the community to grieve and honor those lost.

For whatever reason and for whatever the cause, we as a country seem to have a penchant for gun violence that sooner or later we have to face and overcome. The Talmud teaches that “Some are guilty but all are responsible.” That is the undeniable truth we face.

Scripture tells us “The day is long and the work is great and we're not commanded to finish the work, but neither are we allowed to desist from it.” We must not allow ourselves to desist from the work towards a less violent future, one that won’t come from laws, or lobbying, slogans or television ads.

It will come when we as Bobby Kennedy said “tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world.” Only when we have made gentle the pain of this country and the ways of our world, then may we find the words to console.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Statement on Nomination For Trustee Ballot

Last week I was informed by the director of the Penn State Board of Trustees Office that my name had been submitted as a Trustee candidate for Penn State’s Board. Although I have never declared a candidacy for the board, I received the required number of nominating votes to be placed on the ballot.

I would like to thank all the people who nominated me to serve Penn State, our students and alumni. Serving on Penn State’s Board is a most solemn responsibility. That many of you felt I would be worthy to play such a prominent role in Penn State’s future governance is an honor.

However, my recent employment at Penn State makes me ineligible to serve at this time. By-law Article 2 Paragraph 3 prevents anyone from serving for a period of three years after their last employment at the university.


(3) A person shall not be eligible to serve as a member of the Board of Trustees for a period of three (3)years from the July 1 coincident with or next following the date of last employment in any capacity by the University. This qualification for membership shall not apply to a person who is an ex officio member of the Board, nor to a person who is a student employed part-time by the University.

Although I can neither run nor serve, I look forward to staying engaged with Penn State. The nomination process continues now through February 25th. We encourage all Penn Staters to get involved in Penn State’s governance and in the Trustee election process. It is a vital role for alumni of this great institution and only by participation can we Make an Impact on our most beloved Alma Mater.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Closing Statement...for now

Statement for Today:

After talking with Coach Bill O’Brien we have reached the conclusion that I will not be a part of the Penn State football staff moving forward.

I will spend the next few weeks consulting with my wife and family to weigh various future options both inside and outside of football.

I thank the student-athletes that I’ve been privileged to coach over the past two decades at four schools. Hopefully my career has had an impact and helped you learn about life, and about the commitment and passion it takes to pursue personal excellence.

As for Penn Staters, I cannot even begin to express what your support has meant to me and my family over the past seventeen seasons and in particular the past two months. Through the tumult of the past several weeks, it has been your stalwart support combined with life lessons learned from Joe Paterno that has and continue to sustain us.

As a Penn Stater I am reminded of the words “Sing Our Love and Loyalty” from the Alma Mater. I wish the program the best of luck in carrying on the academic and athletic excellence that have been a hallmark of this university for decades.